Mission of Burma: Laura Bush Edition

Laura Bush is on a Myanmar awareness-raising crusade. She seems to be casting it as a woman's issue, which is an odd way to frame the decades-long oppression of 52 million people by a military regime. I'm skeptical of this sort of thing in general, but the extent of Bush's ignorance on an issue she claims to champion is kind of disturbing:

Although Myanmar’s government has withstood criticism and a decade of sanctions, Mrs. Bush argued against resignation on the issue.

“So ‘why bother,’ I guess, is the question people ask,” she said. “But I think the answer is, ‘Why not?’ I mean, why not continue to put pressure on the regime in any way we can?”

Well, I can think of lots of reasons "why not" to apply pressure for the mere sake of applying pressure, the first one being the interlocutor's: because it's not working. This we know. And it's possible that U.S. pressure is pushing the regime in the wrong direction, though in practice it's impossible to separate the regime's propaganda from its actual beliefs. Than Shwe uses the threat of U.S. invasion to justify military rule. U.N. intervention has thus far produced only a sham constitutional convention, which appropriates the language of democratic reform to continue justifying the regime's authority.

Bush also seems to think Burmese people sit around all day wishing Americans would pay more attention to them. Americans are in fact not paying attention. The Burmese, in my experience, are not at all aware of this. The massive American embassy in Yangon issues a condemnation every time the regime sneezes, and the regime responds by publishing anti-American screeds and pictures of bloody Iraqi children in the New Light of Myanmar. The Burmese read the New Light of Myanmar, which disapprovingly quotes the Americans, and get the impression that D.C. and Yangon are in constant, pissy dialogue.

Look, the junta has transformed Myanmar into one of the most isolated and reviled nations on Earth. Laura Bush's plan amounts to: "Hey I know! We'll isolate you! Big up to Suu Kyi!" Here's an interview with Time:

The Burmese I've met, they want our affection.

Are they puppies? The Burmese I've met want to not live under a thuggish dictatorship, and seem pretty unconcerned with the amount of TLC they are receiving from Americans.

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  • Brian Sorgatz||

    U.S. out of Myanmar! Unfortunately, I'm only half-joking.

  • ||

    How many times are we going to have "sanctions" before it dawns on us that we hurt the people, not the governments?

    Actually, that's not quite true: Left wingers point that out when it's a government antagonistic to the US and Right wingers point that out when its a government that supports the US.

  • ||

    Political spouses should probably steer away from topics that normally would be handled by diplomats.

  • VM||

    "That's how [she] escaped her certain fate"???

  • VM||

    "That's when [she] reach[es] for [her] revolver"?

  • ||

    Keepin' the pressure on sure's workin' in Cuber.

  • ||

    Keepin' the pressure on sure's workin' in Cuber.



    You took the words right out of my mouth.

  • ||

    The Burmese I've met, they want our affection.

    Are they puppies?


    No, but some are kitties.

    In other Myanmar news, some monks kicked the crap out of a bunch of security goons, and locked them up in a monestary - but they apparently just let them go. The story didn't mention if they wanted our affection.

  • ||

    No, but some are kitties.

    Thanks BakedPenguin, you put it better that I could have.

    We had a Burmese when I was a kid - she was a wonderful, affectionate cat. The article you linkedmentions that they are people oriented - almost dog-like in their affection. Ours liked to play "fetch", strangely enough, with those wire tie-tabs that Kerry mentioned.

  • ||

    It's at least worth noting that the people calling for sanctions on the Burmese military regime are those elected in national elections that the military junta organized, lost and then voided. The National League for Democracy, headed by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, won 82% of the seats in those elections, and the sanctions are in support of their policy.

    As for the citizens now risking their lives in peaceful demonstrations, why should we not support them? There's a couple of recent videos on YouTube showing plain clothed thugs attacking the demonstrators. See http://youtube.com/watch?v=pi6s_g_VGJw

  • ||

    This is a common confusion: Suu Kyi supports sanctions, therefore the Burmese people support sanctions. Suu Kyi is one person. I don't think support for American sanctions is a majority position in Burma, though it's impossible to know. You'd be surprised how controversial Suu Kyi is, even among former NLD members.

    Yes, I think we should support the protesters who emerged after the oil price hike. But some forms of "support" can prove counterproductive.

  • ||

    Don't worry folks! It will all be over soon for the oppressive government Myanmar!

    Here is why:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgKaAeGfOyA

    Once the government of Myanmar sees what is in store for them in the Docu-Drama Rambo 4, they will come to their senses!

  • ||

    "I said my mother's dead/But I don't think about it/I said my father's dead/But I don't think about it/I'm on the edge of Myanmar . . ."

    --"The Ballad Of Johnny Myanmar"

  • ||

    """but the extent of Bush's ignorance on an issue she claims to champion is kind of disturbing:"""

    Maybe the apple doesn't far fall from the tree.

  • ||

    Maybe the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

  • ||

    Aresen - that's interesting. I thought that much of the write-up might be flattering to the breed, but you confirmed two of the main points.

    The BBC story I linked to also mentioned protests throughout the country, and as Kerry mentioned above... on Wednesday, US President George W Bush condemned the crackdown by the Burmese authorities. "It's inexcusable that we've got this kind of tyrannical behaviour in Asia," he said.

  • ||

    Kerry, it is you doing the confusing. The policy of sanctions is not that of "one person", it is the policy of the party that won the elctions. There may well be Burmese who disagree with that policy, but both Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy demonstrate their continued popularity whenever they are given the opportunity to communicate with the Burmese public. Aung San Suu Kyi's tremendously popular tour of upper Burma in May of 2003 so frightened the generals that they engineered an attack on her convoy that resulted in scores of people beaten to death on the road, girls and women raped, and Suu Kyi put back incommunicado under arrest, where she remains today.

    For other readers, it's worth noting that, according to the rankings done by the Fraser Institute on Economic Freedom, the Burmese junta comes second to last in the world. The economic problems faced by ordinary Burmese can be laid at the feet of the gangsters who run the country. See http://www.fraserinstitute.ca/shared/readmore.asp?sNav=nr&id=830

  • ||

    Here's another Beeb article, this one on the sanctions, and their (in)effectiveness.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6899569.stm"

    The site wouldn't let me hyperlink; I guess I've used up my allowance for the day.

  • ||

    Id,

    The NLD won the election 17 years ago. The strict sanctions we know today were introduced in 1997, seven years after that election. We're supposed to take an election that took place in 1990 as broad support for sanctions imposed in 1997? That makes even less sense than it initially seems to. Suu Kyi is wildly popular because she is the only viable alternative to one of the world's most brutal regimes, not because of her opinions on the efficacy of economic sanctions.

    As for distinguishing "the party" from Suu Kyi, I suggest you visit NLD headquarters in Rangoon and spend some time talking to NLD members. Ask them if they disagree with Suu Kyi on anything at all. I think you'll find that there is an astonishing uniformity of opinion.

  • ||

    The Burmese I've met, they want our affection.

    Are they puppies?


    No, but some are kitties.



    And pythons.

  • ||

    Kerry,
    I have it in my head that you were born and raised in Burma/Myanmar. I know your Reason profile states you wrote for a Myanmar newspaper. I also have the idea that foreign journalists are not allowed in Myanmar. And that emigration is not permitted.

    Can you shed any light on this?

  • ||

    Warren,

    Foreign journalists are not allowed to stay in Myanmar, but I was working for a local publication. They let me in simply because they had ultimate control over what I published. The Myanmar Times, the aussie-owned paper I worked for, actually had to pay for its own censor in order to operate.

    I was there from 2003 to 2005; it was my first job.

  • ||

    Why can't we just invade Burma and whip up a democratic government like we did in Iraq?

  • Okay No Way.||

    @ Go Fun Burn Man

    d'oh. that was gonna be my next one.

  • ||

    Why can't we just invade Burma and whip up a democratic government like we did in Iraq?

    Imagine Laura going on the Rangoon paradrop with the 101st Airborne.

    :))))

  • ||

    I propose we drop the sanctions and hold a yearly vigil where we burn General Than Shwe in effigy. Brian can write a book about it; This Is Burma Man

  • ||

    Drop the sanctions

    They're not working

    Support democracy

    Than Shwe's jerking.


    Burma Shave

  • Nigel Watt||

    The one Burmese guy I met is part of an oppressed minority group that gets their houses raided every time anything happens.

    Luckily, he's gotten out and is studying violin in Austria.

  • ||

    Where are the Burmese patriots, with terminal diseases, who are willing to off a few of the gangsters? If the Burmese won't fight for their freedom, why should we?

  • ||

    If the Burmese won't fight for their freedom, why should we?


    Excellent point. Freedom granted by external forces is often (usually?) squandered. See Iraq.
    Hell, it's hard enough to maintain if you fight and die for it.

  • Gene Callahan||

    "Actually, that's not quite true: Left wingers point that out when it's a government antagonistic to the US and Right wingers point that out when its a government that supports the US."

    Aresen, you've beautifully captured the parody of what passes for "political discussion" in this country.

  • ||

    If the Burmese won't fight for their freedom, why should we?

    The Karen and other minority groups have been waging a low intensity guerilla campaign for over 40 years. They never got any US support b/c the Burmese junta wasn't/isn't communist.

  • ||

    The Karen and other minority groups have been waging a low intensity guerilla campaign for over 40 years.

    Yes. The U.S. has provided money to destroy the opium crop the Shan use to fund their insurgency, so you could argue that the U.S. has actively worked against one faction of the resistance.

  • ||

    The Karen and other minority groups have been waging a low intensity guerilla campaign for over 40 years.

    Yes. The U.S. has provided money to destroy the opium crop the Shan use to fund their insurgency, so you could argue that the U.S. has actively worked against one faction of the resistance.


    Thanks for the info folks. Now I'm alittle for aware and a little more depressed.

    In 15 minuutes on the tubes I learned more about Burma than I ever had previously. More than I could ever find out on paper in a remotely comparable time.

    I've got to say that the internet has so much info so easily (in a free society) obtainable that I have no idea how this will ultimately change the world. But it has and will continue to do so.

    Thanks again.

  • LarryA||

    Well, I can think of lots of reasons "why not" to apply pressure for the mere sake of applying pressure, the first one being the interlocutor's: because it's not working.

    But if the government understood this argument they'd have to first normalize relations with Cuba and a number of other countries, and then abandon the War on Drugs and any number of other government programs that also don't work. Washington, D.C. would even have to give up on banning handguns and close their public school system.

    Government programs have always been rated on what they are meant to accomplish, not on what they actually do.

  • ||

    Two points: One, Kerry, you invalidated your own false statement that the call for sanctions from inside Burma comes from just "one person". Apology accepted. It's worth noting that the Myanmar Times, for which you wrote, was a side project of Burmese Military Intelligence, whose behavior is widely chronicled.

    Two: The Shan army that was funded by opium was the one run by Khun Sa, who sold out the Shan and surrendered his army to the junta in exchange for his opportunity to live comfortably in Rangoon and turn his "black" money "white." Now, most of the opium from Burma (along with the massive amounts of methamphetimine) comes from so-called "cease fire" groups, who have cut deals with the junta, and who sell dope with the connivance of local military commanders. The strongest groups fighting the junta now, the KNU, the KNPP and the Shan State Army South, are not involved in the drug trade.

  • Joachim Arnerholm||

    VM

    Also "Donna Sumeria", but I hate that you beat to the revolver ref..!

  • ||

    She's obviously angling for a cameo in Rambo 5. "Missionary stranded on cliff #3", something like that.

  • ||

    Kerry, you invalidated your own false statement that the call for sanctions from inside Burma comes from just "one person".

    I never made that statement.

    The strongest groups fighting the junta now, the KNU, the KNPP and the Shan State Army South, are not involved in the drug trade.

    Which is why my comment about counternarcotics funding was in the past tense.

  • VM||

    Joachim

    :)

    mvh

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